Organize the document

Organize the notes

Organize the notes you have written so they present information the readers need, when they need it. The procedure that follows will seem time consuming because you must concentrate and proceed slowly as you learn it. However, when you become adept at following these steps through practice, you will perform them quickly and easily. Like the other best practices in this course, they will become second nature to you.

Organize the Level 1 points first.

Organize the Level 1 point key terms explaining the central idea according to what the reader needs to be able to understand the central idea. Don't work with the Level 2 points until you have finished organizing the Level 1 points. Don't write sentences yet. If you have two or more central ideas, decide which central idea the reader needs first and put it first in the document. Then organize the Level 1 points for that central idea. After you finish organizing the Level 1 points for the first central idea, organize the Level 1 points for the other central ideas.

Organize the Level 2 points next.

Then organize the Level 2 points listed under the Level 1 points until you have organized all Level 2 points for a central idea. That way, you will see the organization of the entire document at a Level 2 depth before going into deeper levels. It is as though you were viewing a summary of the document so you can evaluate whether the information is sufficient, necessary, and organized.

You will also be able to see whether you have written some Level 2 points twice. That will be a signal to rethink the Level 1 points. You may decide you should combine two Level 1 points because you're repeating Level 2 points in them.

Organize the remaining points at all other levels.

Then go on to the Level 3 points in the same way. Focus on the Level 3 points throughout the explanation of the central idea before going on to Level 4 points. Continue this process until you have finished all the points whose key terms you have listed.

For instructions and procedures, organize the key terms so readers have what they need at the precise point at which they need it. For instructions and procedures, organize the key terms so all the information readers need to make a decision or perform an action is at the point at which the reader makes the decision or performs the action. Don't explain information at one point and expect the reader to remember it and use it to make a decision at a later point.

Don't refer the reader to another place in the document to read information necessary for deciding or acting at the current place.

End by reviewing the organization from the first page to the last. Finally, read the key terms from beginning to end to see whether this organization of the document will help the reader follow the thoughts and understand the points well enough to achieve your objectives.

Look for Special Orders

Look at your notes to see whether the text falls in one of these special orders. If it does, your job is a little simpler because these orders organize themselves. Organize the notes using one of these orders:

  1. Order based on the reader's request
  2. Topical order
  3. Order of importance
  4. Chronological order
  5. Procedure or steps order
  6. Spatial order
  7. Inverted pyramid

Explanations of these orders follow.

Order based on the reader's request

When you write an e‑mail, memo, letter, or report in response to a reader's request, present your responses in the order the reader used in the request. That shows the reader you are attentive to his or her needs and helps keep you on track.

Use this organization when responding to a request:

  1. Summary of the request and context for the request.
  2. Any limitations or alterations to the answers.
  3. Any additional information or clarification needed to answer any questions.
  4. Question 1 with answer 1.
  5. Question 2 with answer 2.
  6. Question 3 with answer 3.
  7. Offer to add to the answers or otherwise help.


Topical order

Topical order means the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report contains topics that may be presented in any order. For example, an e‑mail, memo, letter, or report may contain the agenda for a meeting and a description of the progress on a project. The writer could present either first in the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report and the order would not affect the reader's understanding.


Order of importance

If one part of the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report is clearly more important than the other parts, you probably will present it first. You may present the other parts in decreasing order of importance.

However, you may also decide to hold the most important subject until after finishing the less important explanations. In that event, you would explain the contents of the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report at the beginning, stating that you will spend more time with the most important topic at the end.


Chronological order

Use chronological order when the events occur in an obvious time sequence. Put in breaks when you proceed from one time period to the next. Consider bolding the times or dates to show them clearly.


Procedural steps

If the contents of the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report are in steps, organize the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report the way the reader will follow the steps. Use numerals or a word such as "step" to designate each step. Consider bolding the word step.

Spatial order

If the e‑mail, memo, letter, or report describes areas in space, such as states or countries, you may choose to use a spatial organization, going from North America to Europe, for example.


Inverted pyramid (beginning with a general summary, then providing the details)

The inverted pyramid organization is commonly used in newspaper articles. The first paragraph or two describes the primary content in a summary form. The remainder of the article provides details about the content.

In business writing, you normally will use the inverted pyramid for news reports or business articles only. If you do choose to use it, you will still have to select an organization for the main part of the message.



To see an example of a memo explaining a procedure that is poorly written and a revision that improves it, click on the "Example" button below. The information will appear in a new window. Close the new window when you're finished looking at the examples.




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